The Doctor and the Kid: A Weird West Tale
The Doctor and the Kid: A Weird West Tale by Mike Resnick (Pyr 2011)
Resnick has followed up the entertaining The Buntline Special with an even more polished take on a Old West yarn. This is the story of how Doc Holliday gunned down Billy the Kid. What, you declare, Pat Garrett was responsible the Kids’ early, but well deserved, demise. Just remember, this is an alternative history. Medicine men, such as Geronimo and Hook Nose have prevented the United States from expanding beyond the Mississippi with the use of magic. Besides, Resnick’s Holliday is far more engaging than our Pat Garrent. Resinick is just doing what the old dime novelists did, create an Old West that was better than the real thing.
The background of the tale is that the confederation of medicine men that have been holding the United States at bay is starting to show some wear. For reasons Resnick never explains, the Indian tribes start to settle old grievances that they have had with each other rather concentrating on their common foe. They have also started to act independently in their struggle against the white-eyes. Hook Nose has taken it into his head to protect Billy the Kid, if for no other reason but because the Kid is an unwitting fifth column. The Comanche medicine man, White Eagle, is protecting a rail station because the land under it is claimed by both Apache and Comanche and is sacred to the Apache. Geronimo wants the station gone, but doesn’t know who is actually protecting it and is willing to trade with Holliday. Holliday will be protected while he tries to kill Billy the Kid, if Holliday (along with Edison and Buntline) can get rid of rail station. Why would Holliday want to kill Billy the Kid? Because he is flat broke. Interesting how a simple premise can really complicate things, huh?
Fortunately, Resnick pares down a lot in the telling. Magic moves the story along without taking it over. There are no vampire bats or zombies or such to deal with. Resnick has also reduced the number of characters he has to deal with. Most of the ones we knew from The Buntline Special are either dead or are no longer one speaking terms with Holliday. Resnick does introduce us early on to Susan B. Anthony and Oscar Wilde and then drops them. One suspect that he may have wanted Anthony to take the role of a later character, but that very independent Anthony would have nothing of it. The sad thing here is, that Resnick reduces that crusader for Woman’s Suffrage to a mere prude. It would have absolutely delicious to see more of Wilde, save for the fact that it would hard to believe that Wilde’s wit would have been bested by Holliday. As we already learned from The Buntline Special, it is Holliday’s air of gallow’s humor that keeps the reader turning page after page. Holliday has to get the best lines.
Still, that wit has to play off of someone. Edison and Buntline aren’t up to the task. They are far to optimistic. Resnick resolves this problem with a bounty hunter. Not only is this bounty hunter going after the same quarry as Holliday, but is also a woman. Charlotte Branson is not only clever and has a certain affection for Holliday, but like Holliday is familiar with a life unmoored. The Kid killed her husband.
It wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that Billy the Kid is gunned down. There are some things that happen in every alternative history. Who goes down in history (this or any other) as having dispatched the Kid is another matter. It should also be of no surprise that Edison and Buntline make some progress in learning how to counteract the magic that has been hampering west-ward expansion. Progress is progress, after all, and stories have to go somewhere. Take The Doctor and the Kid for what it is, a light romp with the grim reaper. When you are done—and that will be all too soon—you will be looking forward to the next installment.